The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: Parks district, city millions of dollars apart on golf course proposal

By Steve Plunkett

The gulf separating visions of golf in the city widened in July as the City Council sought fresh ideas from course architects and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District tentatively set an almost 36 percent tax increase.

Council member Andy Thomson suggested issuing a “design challenge” to get informal drawings from certified architects in time for the council’s Aug. 27 meeting.

“They bring to us some concepts of how we could build this course for less,” Thomson said at the council’s July 23 meeting, setting a ceiling of $8 million for an 18-hole course on the west side of Northwest Second Avenue. “Let’s ask them to come here, share their ideas.”

While the council embraced Thomson’s idea, Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers went a step further.

“I think it’s time for the city to take the lead on this in a lot of ways. I think that is the way we become partners at this point,” he said.

The city also said it would pay for and build a second phase of sports fields at de Hoernle Park in 2022. City officials had expected the Beach and Park District to cover the nearly $10 million cost since the district financed the first phase of fields, but beach and park commissioners had already deleted the future expense because the city for years would not green-light the project.

Under an interlocal agreement, the district needs the City Council to approve its golf course design before it can even submit plans to the building department for permits. District commissioners were also hoping council members would commit to paying most if not all of the $20 million estimated for construction.

Facing a deadline for setting a tentative property tax rate and lacking a financial commitment from the council, District Commissioner Robert Rollins proposed a rate of $1.1956 per $1,000 of taxable value, a 35.7 percent increase from the rollback rate of $0.8808 per $1,000.

If adopted in September, the tax increase would give the district an additional $10.3 million in revenue, said Merv Timberlake, the district’s financial adviser.

At an earlier meeting, Art Koski, the district’s former executive director and now manager of its Boca National Golf Course project, said keeping taxes at that level for five years would pay for building the new course as well as let the district repay the city early on a $19 million bond issue used to buy the land for the course, which straddles Northwest Second Avenue north of Yamato Road.

This year a home with a taxable value of $1 million paid about $915 in beach and park taxes. If the district sticks with Rollins’ proposal, that homeowner would pay about $1,196.

Under state statutes, at least four of the five commissioners will have to vote yes to approve the increase. A simple majority is needed if they whittle the increase to $1.1171 per $1,000 of taxable value, which would be a 26.8 percent boost and a tax bill of $1,117 for the $1 million home.

District Vice Chair Erin Wright voted to set the higher tentative rate, but only so taxpayers could voice their opinions at budget hearings.

“I was elected to represent all of our residents, and that includes those who don’t want their taxes increased to pay for a golf course,” she said. “I will likely not support this in September after I’ve had a chance to hear from all our constituents at the two public meetings.”

But she promised a new course would be built even if taxes are not raised.

“Everyone on this board is committed to golf, and the council has made it clear that they are committed to keeping golf in Boca as well,” Wright said.

Looking for more from city

Unhappiness with the City Council’s position extended to other areas of cooperation between the two governments.

“We need to reexamine all the commitments we’ve made to the city, not only in this upcoming [parks and recreation] budget but as far as our CRA contribution goes, our beach renourishment contributions go, because it seems to me that we’re always the guy with the hand in the pocket taking out money to give to the city every time they ask,” District Commissioner Steve Engel said.

The district is budgeting $1.4 million for the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency in 2019-2020 and $1.7 million for beach renourishment.

Commissioner Craig Ehrnst proposed asking Boca Raton to pay the estimated $3.2 million for replacing seawater pumps and piping for the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.

“They’re the ones who are managing the project, they’re the ones who are going to exceed the initial [$2.9 million] cost and it has grown, so I would like to see the city take that project completely and ask that they pay for it,” he said.

Ehrnst was the sole vote against setting the $1.1956 tax rate, saying he wanted to trim budgets first before talking about taxes.

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